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Long-term review

VW Golf R Mk8 – long-term review

£40,025 / £48,450 as tested / £390 pcm
Published: 22 Mar 2022
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SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • SPEC

    Golf R Performance Pack

  • ENGINE

    1984cc

  • BHP

    320bhp

  • 0-62

    4.7s

Goodbye, Golf R. Goodbye Golf reputation?

It’s been a difficult car to digest, the Golf 8. In any guise, not just the R. For so long the everyman benchmark, it’s now crammed with unforced errors and cost-saving. Today, no Golf is the best car in its class. Need a boggo hatch? Get a Focus. You’re badge-conscious? 1 Series. GTI? Nah, Focus ST. Clubsport? i30N and change, please. R? Probably the best of the bunch. More fun than an M135i or S3, faster and more composed than an A35. 

On merit, it’s a strong contender. But only once – every single time you start it – you’ve told it to revert in to your preferred drive mode. And waited for your phone to connect. And apologised to passengers as the lazy DSG and sticky electric handbrake lurch as you pull away.

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People often say there’s no such thing as a bad car any more. Because cars don’t routinely fail to start on cold mornings or expire in clouds of steam on hot afternoons. The Mk8 Golf R is mechanically reliable. It’s also hugely fast, refined, comfortable, well-equipped and practically packaged. 

By every metric, A Very Good Car indeed. And yet, somehow, it’s not. Not a recommendably good one. I don’t miss it now it’s gone. Other premium cars annoy me less with their tech. Other hot hatchbacks are way more satisfying to drive. 

As an individual car, this R mostly behaved. There was a growing dashboard buzz as mileage headed past 10,000, but it handled winter without incident. Lots of warning messages popped up every day, but they were just from all the driver assistance and safety nannies saying they were out of action because some dirt had obscured a sensor. Nothing actually broke or fell off. It averaged 31 miles to the gallon, which isn’t brilliant. My 3.0-litre BMW M440i xDrive was ten per cent more economical. 

Because it’s a Golf, I often used to approach the R with a ‘it must be me, not the car’ mindset, thinking we’d eventually ‘click’. But conversations I’ve had with Volkswagen engineers and insiders prove they know the Mk8 Golf is a massive mis-step, and they’ve got work to do to rebuild our trust in their design choices.

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As for the hot ones, the R is back to being overshadowed by the RS3s and A45s of this world, rather than standing proud as the refreshing sweet spot. For the R, cult hero status was good while it lasted. Once again, it's an also-ran. What a crying shame.

Luckily, the new Audi RS3 is spectacular. So, if you want a megabucks megahatch to worship, that's the new king among shopping cars. Amazing what a five-cylinder engine and a logical cabin can do...

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